BENTLEY GTC SPEED
December. Just the month for testing convertibles. Managed it just before the snow. But the top remained shut throughout a 500 mile round trip to Chichester with not much chance of basking in anything beyond the reflected glory of a £153,400 masterpiece. Prodigious acceleration, braking, 600 horse power, it could do, the factory says, 200 miles an hour and nought to sixty in a trice.
The Bentley is exquisitely made, but 200 miles an hour? You have to think of it as a sort of engineering endorsement. My Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master is watertight in 200 metres of water. I do not expect to be looking at the time 200 metres down, but it is good to know that I could.
The GTC Speed is a 2485kg (5478lb) (49cwt or two and a half tons in old money) luxury cruiser with the agility of a Focus RS. Heavy items have a lot of momentum; they can be very unresponsive, but the Bentley’s poise is perfect. The steering is weighted perfectly. Body roll is negligible. Its precision is exemplary. Modern electronics have transformed cars like this. Both GTCs have Sport Traction, which calms down the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) to help feel and control. In Dynamic Mode the GTC Speed has a touch of extra wheel slip for quicker response. Continuous all-wheel drive has good traction in all weathers, transferring pull between front and rear through a sensitive differential in the middle. If it detects a difference in grip at either end, power goes to the wheels that have most.
The GTC is serene. A Bentley is scarcely understated although somehow it keeps its dignity. The Speed title was revived in 2007, recalling the Speed Six of 1929, a 6½ Litre of a mere 180 horse power, which was less than the 240 of the 4½ Litre with Amherst Villiers supercharger. Interestingly the 4½ weighed half a ton less than the modern GTC.
Aside from the name and reputation, there is something self-effacing about this most powerful Bentley Convertible ever. There is nothing flashy, just good proportions, perfect precision although with a small caveat emptor over the tastefulness of the test car. I never much cared for Bentley’s wavy netting radiator. It is supposed to look like the stoneguards required at Le Mans in the 1920s protecting the real radiator, even though the loose rock strewn track has long been replaced. When Bentley won again at the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2003, it was billiard table smooth so the netting is an anachronism. It should be discarded, together with the test car’s turned aluminium instrument panel.
I would go for one of the six natural unbleached laser-cut wood veneers. It is a matter of taste of course, on which you might need a gentleman’s gentleman, like Jeeves, to pass judgement. He would caution stiffly on the quilted diamond pattern upholstery, “Not really you, sir”. It looks louche, like the furniture, I am told, you get in certain types of boudoir. Prefer one of the 17 premium grade leathers perhaps in the new shade, Aquamarine. Probably live with the hand-stitched Bentley logo. Family escutcheons are probably passé.
Otherwise faultless? Not quite. You can feel and hear road bumps. It is fine on a smooth surface but serenity runs short on grainy concrete motorways. Expansion joints make a B-r-r-p. It is not easy designing suspension soft enough to cushion noise, yet firm enough to provide tenacity at 150mph. Jaguar manages it, so must Bentley.
Bentleys are splendidly engineered in Germany, but it looks as though Germans don’t feel they are getting their money’s worth unless tyres send frissons up their spines. The engine is made in Crewe. Dr Porsche’s grandson Ferdinand Piëch’s magnificent W12 with twin turbochargers is smooth and mostly near silent. It growls on acceleration, not a racy noise like an Aston Martin or Ferrari but the boom, perhaps, of a double bass rather than a clarinet of gears and tappets.
The 6-speed ZF automatic’s gearshifts are virtually imperceptible; even on Sport setting you can only tell from the tachometer or the small print on the instrument display, that you have moved a gear. Controlling the shifts from little paddles behind the wheel, like in a racing car, seems an affectation.
Fuel consumption? Depends how you drive. It is possible to get down to single-figure mpg but I was getting 27, using the adaptive cruise control that keeps your distance from the car in front, even when it slows unexpectedly. A tiny radar sensor notices everything. And so do I. Note to Bentley on extolling features of the GTC Speed, like its drilled alloy foot pedals: I once received a memo from an editor obsessed with brevity, “Foot pedal,” it said, “is one word too many.”